Culleny: A pope for our times

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I’ve got to say I’m impressed by one religious man named (at least currently), Francis.

Francis is a pope in a line of popes with a checkered history. Some were as unsavory as many humans, others not so bad, but this one seems qualitatively different. He seems to take the gospel he preaches seriously. For a pope to not only get what Jesus taught about poverty and money but to back that up in official pronouncements as head of the Roman Catholic Church, this is big.

Pope Francis, the former Argentinean bar bouncer (that’s what he says) formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio (George Bergoglio) said in a recent 50,000 word “apostolic exhortation” titled Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel):

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will in itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Yay! A pope who disagrees with Ronald Reagan and all the woe his presidency introduced into the lives of poor and average people. Reagan, the decimator of the New Deal. Reagan, national debt builder extraordinaire. Reagan, the trasher of empathetic economic policy. Reagan, the loather of labor. Ronald, the great economic ex-communicator — dark accolades go on …

Francis … George … whatever your name is, you’re a breath of fresh air!

Some disagree with the new pope, but most who do have loads of money or work for people who have loads of money in the hope they will have loads of money, too; money to hold as a hedge against falling into the pit of poverty Francis so emphatically refers to. Most who disdain what I call the Pope’s Defense of Jesus Act are apologists for their personal greed.

Take Rush Limbaugh who, despite his girth, is one of the smallest men I know of — a twerp of enormous proportions; an ethical cipher with a grand diameter. Limbaugh doesn’t like what Pope Francis has said — which, considering the history of Limbaugh’s mouth, ought to convince anyone with even a shred of moral sense that Francis is really onto something.

Limbaugh said, “It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth. But regardless, what this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”

Which being said, might suggest that Marx (like most people except Limbaugh) may not have been all wrong. It might even suggest that Jesus, in his New Testament teaching about the poor and the rich, the hypocrites, the vipers, the morally degenerate living in whited sepulchers (references that can be found in the gospels) may even have some consonance with Marx.

In fact capitalism as practiced today is potentially (or inevitably) as bad or worse for those not at the top as communism ever was. With Limbaugh as one of “free-market” capitalism’s spokesmen and admirers, this is as certain as the effects of trickle-down economics without the trickle — what we have right now.

That “no trickle” part is the stickler for Pope Francis and is the reason for his pointed use of the term in his exhortation. Maybe if there had actually been some real trickle, enough at least for the poor to slosh around in, the Pope may not have exhorted so. But he did. Francis went straight for the jugular of the sacred idea of conservative economic policy since Reagan, the one Republicans ooze about, the notion that “richer rich people” translates: “fewer-poor-people.” But this has not panned out if you believe the stats which show that the top 1 percent of the rich own 46 percent of the world’s wealth. This does not prove trickle. It doesn’t even prove drip. The wealthy are sequestering their ill-gotten gains like misers in caskets tufted with thousand dollar bills. This is what the former bouncer (a man who remembers his roots more than many popes have) was talking about.

Pope Francis’ exhortation really was quite remarkable and, in case you’re inclined to misunderstand what he said he included this:

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

“Such an economy kills.” This is such a simple, straightforward and true statement (supported by economic statistics) it makes homicidal abettors of many of us.

The question it begs is, what must we do to repent?

Culleny lives in Shelburne Falls, works in construction, is a singer/songwriter, and has done commentary for National Public Radio. His email address is

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